A Meta-Analysis of the Literature on the Impact of Problem Solving on Internalizing Problems

Introduction: Adolescents are at increased risk for internalizing problems, or disturbances in emotion or mood, which heavily impact their academic future, their chances of being diagnosed with a mental disorder later in life, and their emotional and sexual health. Prevention programs can significantly reduce the prevalence of internalizing problems, and common elements of these programs are being discovered to better inform future prevention services and research. However, no current study has matched these common elements to positive outcomes, or have found them to be significantly effective. Purpose: This meta-analysis will examine the impact of the common element, problem solving, and its effectiveness in reducing internalizing problems in adolescents based on its rate of inclusion and dosage in prevention programs. Articles will be collected through a systematic search and coded based on specific inclusion criteria. Methods: Articles were included based on a variety of criteria and were coded for details like prevention type, program setting, and problem solving skills training (PSST) presence and dosage. A random effects meta-regression was run to assess variance in depression and anxiety effect sizes accounted for by PSST presence and dosage. Results: The final sample contained 79 articles and 70 unique prevention programs. PSST was included less than 50% of the time and, on average, 13.33% of time was spent on PSST in interventions in which it was included. The effects of PSST presence and dosage on depression and anxiety effect sizes were not statistically significant. Conclusions: Future research should focus on testing individual common elements to determine possible effects on internalizing problems, along with a renewed coding strategy that focuses on manuals, more appropriate prevention measures, and prevention skills.